'The Genetic Detective' Review: CeCe Moore is impressive as she tracks down a 79-year-old woman's rapist
In April 2018, 79-year old Carla Brooks was assaulted in her home in Utah in the middle of the night
Renowned genetic genealogist CeCe Moore gained prominence for her work by helping law enforcement crack decades-old cold cases by finding suspects through the use of DNA and genetic genealogy. In the season finale of ABC's 'The Genetic Detective', however, Moore takes on her first-ever hot case. In April 2018, 79-year old Carla Brooks was assaulted in her own home, Utah, in the middle of the night. Three weeks later, the police department had exhausted all leads. A DNA sample retrieved from the crime scene prompted investigators to turn to genetic genealogy for forensic help. In addition, Cece also watches on TV the jury trial from the first case she had ever worked on — the twin homicide case of Jay Cooke and Tanya Van Cuyenberg.
The Carla Brooks Case
Carla Brooks, 79, was fast asleep in the comfort of her home in St George, Utah, on a fateful night in April 2018, when she was woken up by someone stroking her hair. She lived alone since the passing of her husband. In the darkness, she could only make out a shadowy figure standing above her in her bedroom and as she tried to scream for help, the stranger gagged her with a rag and sexually assaulted her. When the intruder had left her home, she called 911 and the police quickly arrived at the scene, after which an investigation ensued.
While authorities are commonly under oath to not identify victims of rape, Brooks urged them to openly mention her name with the intention of creating awareness. She said that rape is a show of power and can happen to anyone, regardless of the age of the victim. Following her attack, Brooks became an activist. She learned that rape survivors are often subjected to victim shaming and started advocating for them, rendering her support towards helping and understand the trauma that comes with being sexually assaulted. She believed that sharing her traumatic story would have a profound effect on people.
Her family members helped her set up a GoFundMe page and she raised about $40,000 towards various causes. After learning about the backlog of rape kits that continue to sit in crime labs because of resource restraints, she donated to End the Backlog, an organization that works to change laws around the country pertaining to rape-kit testing. When she learned about sexual assault of seniors and realized that it truly was a prevalent issue, she wanted to talk about it and raise awareness. She donated to Dove Center, an organization based in her hometown that works toward this cause.
The police investigation ensued as soon as Brooks called 911. Arriving on the scene, investigators collected evidence and DNA samples and retrieved the assaulter's semen samples from the bedsheets. Despite technological advancements, there was no surveillance footage, no cell-phone records and no other evidence recovered from that night. The authorities followed every lead they possibly had for the next three weeks but to no avail. Matching the DNA profile obtained from the sample with genetic profiles in the national law enforcement database CODIS was also unsuccessful, and the investigation had hit a dead end.
Brooks was left disappointed when her attacker wasn't found or identified. She initially described her attacker as a white male with possible dirty blonde hair and in his thirties. However, Moore noted that CODIS is biased towards minorities, as Black and Latin people and other people of color are disproportionately represented in the database, and the majority of residents in St George are white people. Feeling helpless, detectives sought to look into what else they could do to proceed with the investigation when they came across Moore and genetic genealogy. They immediately contacted Virginia-based Parabon Labs which specializes in genetic genealogy and had them examine the DNA samples.
CeCe Moore's investigation
For Moore, this case was a completely new turn in her career as a genetic genealogist. All this while she had been helping crack cold cases, but this was her first hot case. She felt an immense pressure on her shoulders because of the urgency of the case and the burdening thought that the perpetrator was roaming free and could possibly strike again. Her work and her entire career were put on trial, she said, as she knew that the community was counting on her as well. They were protective of Brooks and wanted nothing but justice for her.
Despite there being dozens of cold cases that she had to look into, Moore made Brooks' case her top priority. The perpetrator was still possibly active and it was her job to make sure he was identified soon and arrested for his crimes. Parabon labs was accustomed to examining decades-old DNA samples and working on cold cases, so this was new to them as well. Nevertheless, the genealogists developed a DNA profile from the samples and uploaded it onto GEDMatch, a genealogy website that helps find relatives who shared DNA with the suspect. Moore was left with two groups of genetic matches, retrieved from the GEDMatch search, that didn't match each other. This meant that she was working with two networks and would have to build two family trees in order to find the common ancestor and narrow down the connection to the suspect.
She traced the first network back to Charles Morris and his wife, a well-established family with seven children. He was working in the Wilson administration in 1875. The other network was traced back to Amos Holdeman and Nancy Yoder, who had nine children in the 1820s. While building their family tree through reverse genealogy, Moore decided there was a third aspect to the relations. There were lots of matches that signaled at a Puerto Rican ancestry. With some more digging, Moore found that the great-grandson Holdeman, George Monnett, married a descendant of Morris who was half Puerto Rican. They had four grandchildren, whose ages were now similar to that of the suspect, as described by Brooks. Moore realized that the suspect had to be one among the four brothers.
In July 2018, 31-year-old Spencer Monnett, one of the Monnett brothers that Moore deemed as the culprit, was called in for interrogation. He confessed to committing the crime. The police collected his DNA, which also came back as a match. Monnett was charged with a first-degree felony, rape and object rape, alongside second-degree felony and misdemeanor. At his trial in 2019, he pleaded guilty to rape and burglary. He was sentenced to six years in jail at the Utah State Prison. While he didn't have a criminal record or a history of committing serious crimes, he revealed that he was a porn addict and had crazy sexual fantasies.
Brooks, who was present at the trial, had a face-to-face conversation with him where she described the pain, despair, fear and depression she had felt following the attack. In the end, she said she forgave him and wished for him to have a good life. "I’m glad I couldn’t see your face that night so I can look at you today with no fear and move forward from this day on. You will leave here today with many high hurdles in front of you," she said after the hearing. "I hope you will work hard because I want you to do well. I hope you get the treatment you need to get rid of the darkness that drove you to come into my home."
Cooke-Van Cuyenberg double homicide trial
The episode also featured the trial of William Earl Talbot III, the suspect from the first case that Moore helped solve, a twin homicide cold case from 1987. He had pleaded not guilty at the accusations of his involvement in the murder of Jay Cooke and Tanya van Cuyenberg, over 30 years ago. This was a make it or break it moment for not only her but also for the field of genetic genealogy and its future in forensics. Talbot III was found guilty after the jury deliberated over his conviction for a day and a half, and Moore was left emotional, knowing that the work she did helped bring the two victims to justice. Her hard work had paid off.